Analysis: 2018/19 World Endurance Championship – 6 Hours of Shanghai

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The rain shorterned the WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai, providing one of the most exciting races of the season
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

The FIA World Endurance Championship may have hung up its helmet for 2018, but the Super Season championship is still in full swing. Three rounds remain in 2019 until the conclusion of the 14-month championship, but with a four-month break before the WEC grid line up again, we look at the class leaders; who needs to keep an eye in their rear view mirrors, who is hot on their toes and who is dashing off in the distance.

It’s a familiar theme in the headline LMP1 class, as both the Toyota Gazoo Racing cars hold a comfortable 29-point lead over the closest Privateer competitors. The Japanese team’s double disqualification from the 6 Hours of Silverstone has kept third-placed #3 Rebellion Racing in reaching distance, but the dominance the sole hybrid team has displayed so far this season makes it appear to be an unassailable challenge to knock the Toyotas off the top.

However, it is not as cut and dry as this championship looked like it was going to be at the start of the year. After having a very strong start to the year, claiming the opening round victory and taking Toyota’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans win, the #8 crew have been caught by the sister car as the #7 has had two consecutive wins in a row. Both cars have two wins and two second places to their name (scoring no points from Silverstone after being disqualified) but due to the #8 taking the Le Mans victory, they stay ahead with just a five point lead. Extra points are available at the 1000 Miles of Sebring in March, and that could see the pendulum swing in the favour of #7.

Although the privateers only finished one lap down on the Toyotas, the hybrid cars still have dominance in the series, taking their fourth one-two of the season in Shanghai.

Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

Having finish on the podium of all five completed rounds of the ‘Super Season’, the GTE Pro class Le Mans-winning #92 Porsche GT Team is commanding the GT Endurance championship. Sitting on 111 points, the second-place challenger, #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, is 48 points behind.

But if one Porsche is dashing into the distance, the other is in close competition to make it a Porsche one-two in the GTE Pro class. Matching Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke on 63 points, the #91 Porsche duo will be looking to make sure their car is ahead of the #66 Ford when the chequered flag falls at Sebring.

It was great to see Aston Martin Racing back on the top step of the podium in Shanghai, taking their first podium in the new Aston Martin Vantage and being the fourth different manufacturer to win in the Pro class this season (only Porsche has scored two victories). However, their slow start out the blocks has put the British team on the back foot. It’s not out of reach yet, but with their best car, the Shanghai-winning #95, placed fifth in class and 56 points off the leader, they have a lot of work to do to get back to the front.

Taking victory at their home race, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing has taken the LMP2 Championship lead from #36 Signatech Alpine. However, the LMP2 battle is one of the closest championships after five races, with the top four split by 39 points. Between the two Jackie Chan cars in first and third, merely 14 points separates them.

Whilst it is looking like a three horse race at the front of the field, the second place scored by DragonSpeed in Shanghai has placed them happily into fourth place with a 26-point lead over the fifth placed Racing Team Nederland.

The WEC class competitions saw a little bit of a shuffle after the final race of 2018.

Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

Consistency at the front seems to be the theme this year, as GTE Am class leaders Team Project 1 have only missed out on one of five podium finishes, at the opening round of the season. With a comfortable lead of 20 points, the team who secured their maiden victory at the 6 Hours of Fuji lead last year’s Am champions, #98 Aston Martin Racing, and the second Am Aston Martin of TF Sport.

However, the story of the championship was a lot different ahead of the Shanghai race. The DempseyProton Racing cars went under investigation after the Fuji race for suspected tampering with the fuelling log on the cars. It was on the morning of qualifying for the Shanghai that it was announced the cars were deemed illegal and the two cars were stripped of all point they had earned in the first four rounds of the championship. This sent the class Le Mans winners in the #77, who had been leading the class championship competitively, down to the bottom of the points table.

Their championship hopes were helped with a double podium finish at Shanghai, the pair split by the second-place finishing Team Project 1, with the Le Mans-winning car coming out on top. However, Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer will need a lot of luck to bridge the 59-point deficit they have to the class leader.

The WEC cars return to the grid in March for the sixth round of the championship: the 1,000 miles of Sebring. There is a short break ahead of the next round, where the teams will be reflecting on the first part of the season, ready to come back stronger in 2019 and amount their championship challenges.

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